The lights are on
The launch of a new video game console is a moment of hope and excitement. Sometimes the optimism is rewarded with wonderful new game experiences. Other times we suffer disappointment and buyer's remorse. Which outcome you experience is largely due to the games available for that system that first day you rushed to the store and put down your hard-earned money.* Not all console launch lineups are created equal, so we took a look at past console launches to analyze their performance.
Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Game Informer (#226). It's been amended to include the Wii U and Vita, but does not cover recent microconsoles like Ouya.
*Which games were actually available on day one was often unclear, and this article would not be possible without consulting Leonard Herman's Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames, Wikipedia, Midwest Gaming Classic co-founder Martin Goldberg, and various Internet sources. Thanks.
Atari VCS (October, 1977)
Launch Grade: B+
Atari's history-making console (which was known as the VCS before switching to the 2600 moniker) came with Combat – a title that offered 27 different variations of warfare, from tanks to planes. It and Indy 500 were strong titles that helped the console become legendary.
Titles Available on Launch Day:Air-Sea Battle, Basic Math, Blackjack, Combat (pack-in game), Indy 500, Star Ship, Street Racer, Surround, Video Olympics
Mattel Intellivision (1980)
Launch Grade: B-
Intellivision's graphics were great for the time, and the console tried to take advantage of them with a sports-heavy lineup – a game genre that Mattel bragged the competition was incapable of rendering.
Titles Available on Launch Day:ABPA Backgammon, Armor Battle, Basketball, Electric Company: Math Fun, Golf, Hockey, Las Vegas Poker and Blackjack (pack-in game), Las Vegas Roulette, Major League Baseball, NFL Football, Sea Battle, Skiing, Soccer, Space Battle, Tennis
Coleco ColecoVision (September, 1982)
At this point consumers were excited by the prospect of playing games in their homes, but everyone knew the experience wasn't the same as in the arcades. ColecoVision excited gamers because its versions of Donkey Kong and Zaxxon offered comparable home experiences of their arcade counterparts. The launch of the console also offered more titles via the $60 standalone Expansion Module #1 peripheral that enabled the ColecoVision to play Atari 2600 cartridges (which Atari legally contested).
Titles Available on Launch Day:Carnival, Cosmic Avenger, Donkey Kong (pack-in game), Lady Bug, Mouse Trap, Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle, Turbo, Venture, Zaxxon
Atari 5200 (November, 1982)
Launch Grade: F
Despite being the follow-up to the wildly successful 2600, the 5200 was rushed out and its software was simply updated 2600 games. Atari discontinued the 5200 two years later.
Titles Available on Launch Day:Super Breakout (pack-in game), Galaxian, Space Invaders
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) (October, 1985 (N.Y.)/1986 (Nationwide))
Launch Grade: A
Like other systems of the time, the NES debuted in a major test market before it was released nationwide at a later date. The actual day-one lineup of the fabled NES (which was out first in Japan as the Famicom) is hard to pinpoint because we're not 100 percent certain whether the legendary Super Mario Bros. was at the New York launch of the system. Regardless, Super Mario Bros. was also later offered as a pack-in title for the console.
Titles Available on Launch Day:10-Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong Jr. Math*, Duck Hunt (pack-in), Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite (pack-in game), Hogan's Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Mach Rider*, Pinball, Soccer, Stack-Up, Super Mario Bros. (later packed in with the system)*, Tennis, Wild Gunman, Wrecking Crew
*Available at the NES' national launch in 1986
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